Alumni Profile: Eric Salzwedel
One day in Madison, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh student Eric Salzwedel volunteered his time to help a homeless man whom he had never met before.
Salzwedel took the man to a nearby Taco Bell and assisted him with filling out a job application. Not only did he help him with the application but Salzwedel also provided the man with his contact information in case he needed future assistance.
“It’s so easy to judge people who are different or less fortunate than you,” Salzwedel said. “But if you were in someone’s position or situation, wouldn’t you like someone to help you?”
This one altruistic act of unselfish concern and devotion to the welfare of another is one of many that Salzwedel has performed over his lifetime.
A history of altruism
Salzwedel ’11, began his volunteer efforts through Jump Rope for Heart while attending grade school. Volunteering didn’t mean the same to Salzwedel back then as it does today.
“I was more concerned about raising enough money to get the most prizes,” Salzwedel said. “I knew it was for a good cause, but I didn’t realize how it would affect people.”
Salzwedel has volunteered at various organizations since his participation in Jump Rope for Heart, but by attending a week-long summer camp for children with Muscular Dystrophy (MD), Salzwedel really became inspired and passionate about giving to others.
“I didn’t know what to expect at the camp, and when I first arrived, I was thrown off a little bit because most of the kids were in wheel chairs,” Salzwedel said. “So I did my best to make their week by participating in sports and arts and crafts.”
It wasn’t until the last day of camp that Salzwedel realized what an impression he made on the children. Another camp counselor came up to him and told him that a camper wanted to see him.
“I had no idea what the camper wanted to see me about, because I maybe said seven words to her the entire week,” Salzwedel said. “When I went over by her, she gave me a hug goodbye, and that’s when I realized what I had done had a huge impact.”
From that point on, his perspective on life changed. “I realized that during this one week out of the year, the children were able to switch out the word ‘disability’ and replace it with ‘ability,’” Salzwedel said. “If you could provide that joy for them year round, that would be an amazing accomplishment.”
After attending the camp for several years and participating in human service courses at UW Oshkosh, Salzwedel decided to lead a fundraising effort for MD through a bowl-a-thon in 2008. The first year, roughly 20 people participated and raised about $1,000.
Salzwedel continues to grow the MD bowl-a-thon in the Fox Valley, increasing the number of participants and raising more funds than previous years. The majority of the participants and volunteers are UW Oshkosh students from recognized organizations.
“It’s awesome to be able to raise money from college students who really don’t have much to donate,” Salzwedel said. “I really think people come back or volunteer for the bowl-a-thon because of how much fun it is and know it’s for a good cause.”
Salzwedel is currently planning the next MD bowl-a-thon for Saturday, April 30, at Oshkosh Lanes, located at 275 N. Washburn in Oshkosh. His goal is to make 2011’s bowl-a-thon the largest fundraising bowl-a-thon in northeastern Wisconsin.
“I have the opportunity to spend more time on planning the event and increase awareness due to my graduation in December,” Salzwedel said. “And although the bowl-a-thon is months away, I’m very excited to dedicate more time to the event.”
Inspiring and motivating others
Salzwedel and a friend also started an organization called Project Volunteers. The organization’s mission is to inspire and motivate youth and adults to volunteer within their community.
“Through Project Volunteers, I want to inspire and teach others how to start fundraisers too,” Salzwedel said. “People can gain amazing experiences through volunteering and donating, and they can add those experiences to their resumes.”
The new Project Volunteers organization hosted a holiday season food drive, collecting more than 1,000 nonperishable food items, and providing inspirational and motivational speeches to schools, including Globe University in Appleton.
“It’s important that people understand there are several ways to give, and it doesn’t always have to be money,” Salzwedel said. “Giving can include an hour or more of your time or providing your talents and skills to benefit others.”
Salzwedel strongly believes his altruistic behavior has been instilled in him through family, friends and past experiences. He’s determined to become a volunteer or event coordinator for a nonprofit organization and even start a nonprofit himself.
“I have such a passion for helping people,” Salzwedel said. “I guess my whole philosophy of doing so much for others is that if you were in their position or situation; wouldn’t you want someone to help you?”
By Allison Reineck in Engage online